Three units. Two sides. One brand to bridge them all together over the river that is time—ever moving, always changing, and infinite in its possibilities.
“One of the big initiatives for me is creating a company of one unified vision, breaking down the siloed approaches and bringing those business units closer together,” Jim Gibson tells me. “Historically, our three points of operation functioned in something of a silo as the Calavo name continued to acquire and expand. I’m kind of looking to create the next evolution for our legacy company.”
“Kind of” is a modest overview of the blending of businesses Jim has taken on since inheriting the role of Chief Executive Officer for Calavo Growers from longtime leader Lee Cole, who retired in early 2020.
"Our Founders were a group of growers who banded together and, essentially, launched an entire industry that continues to know LIMITLESS POTENTIAL."
-Jim Gibson, Chief Executive Officer, Calavo Growers
Yet, as grand a feat as that might seem to scale, the way Jim tells it, the shift is a very natural one. As though each had always been making its way toward the other.
“Looking back on the culture Calavo has established, this is a noble brand that has continued to innovate and stay ahead of the curve. The entire operation began by growing avocados in 1924, a category that is only continuing to expand both in where it’s grown and how it’s used,” Jim points out. “This is a brand that was instrumental in California’s agricultural standards, because back then, growers had no quality grade and no distribution channels. Our Founders were a group of growers who banded together and, essentially, launched an entire industry that continues to know limitless potential.”
Floating a timeline that spans nearly a century, the company has continued to evolve through the decades with diversification and innovation that now includes guacamole, tomatoes, salsa, Hawaiian papayas, and freshly prepared foods. Marketed under a wide range of brand names spanning a network with global touchpoints all prior to the latest millennium, Calavo was among the first to know such versatility in range and reach.
“Calavo has carved out a unique space for itself, and I think the business recognized a similar innovative spirit in Renaissance Food Group (RFG) when making the acquisition in 2011. Now, the next phase is to ensure that everyone we work with on the buy-side understands the scope of our business, all we are capable of across the vast Calavo enterprise, and how we continue to be a solutions provider for our retail and foodservice partners. I think that’s the evolution for us,” Jim details.
For example, the Calavo reach and breadth might be well-known, whereas RFG has been methodically building and positioning its nationwide presence since it was founded by Jim and his two partners in 2003.
“All of our facilities are strategically placed around the country to better serve our customers, with the intention of taking an order and having it reach the end-user at its optimum freshness,” Jim explains. “We translate this thought process to all aspects of our current business and begin to bridge our business model with trends in the marketplace, what our customers are looking for, and how we can use our unique positioning as a one-stop solution to respond to their needs.”
Each one of the RFG plants, Jim shares, are a three-plants-in-one offering: Each providing a fresh-cut fruit room, a fresh-cut vegetable operation, and a deli or fresh food area.
“Our capabilities are very broad and allow us to react to any customer need. At the same time, retail and foodservice buyers are listening to their consumers and communicating how we can provide solutions, and we’re proud to have the platform execute,” Jim says. “Undoubtedly, the RFG product set will continue to evolve, and we have the systems in place to flex and grow with our customers. We can now brand in a way that tells the holistic story of Calavo as we haven’t done before.”
That story is two sides reaching toward each other, reflecting mirrored visions of the future of fresh produce as they meet over current demands and possible innovations. The Calavo side holds deep-set roots in the ever-expanding avocado category, while RFG has been at the forefront of value-added offerings.
"Now, the next phase is to ensure that everyone we work with on the buy-side understands the scope of our business, all we are capable of across THE VAST CALAVO ENTERPRISE..."
“Setting up Calavo into three succinct business units is by design,” Jim lays out, and the story begins to flow. “We have the ‘Fresh’ side that is more commodity-oriented, which is dominated mainly by avocados. Next is the ‘Foods’ segment, which manufactures guacamole and dips in Mexico. Those items run through a state-of-the-art high-pressure process (HPP) for a safe product with extended shelf-life. Finally, the Renaissance Food Group side is the fresh value-added and prepared foods operation, encompassing seven of the 17 total facilities in the United States. The intention is that if we are selling an item into retail or foodservice, we can begin to connect the dots for Calavo customers as a single entity through branding and storytelling.”
This is not to say, by any means, that Calavo is not known or recognized—just look back on the ground-breaking legacy we began with. Instead, it is the awareness that there is much more beneath the surface of an already existing brand—like falling back in love with an old favorite song or film whose lines resonate differently in a new phase of life. Likewise, retailers may know the name when they see it, but will soon do so in a whole new light.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on being a solution and, as such, the nature of our business is unique and dynamic. For example, we deliver upwards of 100 SKUs per day to some of our customers, because, when we’re delivering, we hit a variety of locations inside the store,” Jim sums up, showing how one company manages to traverse not just the spectrum of innovation, but also of the produce and deli departments.
It comes back, he says, to that constant desire to have the capability and capacity to be a great solutions provider.
As to how Calavo continues to manage this, the team dives into those rushing possibilities with much more than a paddle.
“Throughout the years, we’ve worked to hone our business with the goal of reaching the point we’re at today: Ensuring we are in the marketplace to offer value-added distribution centers positioned around the country to handle ripening and bagging-type operations for our customers to service them more efficiently, innovating out of our test kitchens to craft on-trend products for our customers, and optimizing synergies across all business units to streamline operations and strengthen our supply chain,” Jim shares. “We strive to be first to market with all our innovation and premium offerings, and we’re excited for this next chapter in Calavo’s storied history.”
It is the ability to adapt to these constantly moving parts, Jim tells me, to get to the right place and to find a solution, that keeps us coming back.
"The intention is that if we are selling an item into retail or foodservice, we can begin to connect the dots for Calavo customers as a single entity through branding and storytelling."
“Our industry is always shifting and changing,” he points out. “Even from season to season, you can’t have the pure expectation that raw material inputs are going to be the same, because they’re probably not. There are just so many more opportunities in this industry to do better.”
The final answer, he says simply, is not there yet.
“Whether it’s a packaging innovation, a manufacturing method that’s going to change everything again, new products that we can evolve and move to market, or ways to extend shelf-life, there are so many facets of this industry that will continue to evolve over time,” Jim shares.
As to where that temporal river will take us, Calavo’s is a pattern of success which does not just flow with the current, but sets it. The past informs the present to determine the future, and this tide is set toward an avo-lution.